Writing in the February 2000 Commentary about the Israeli-Arab conflict, Daniel Pipes offered this sobering assessment: "Israel today has weapons and money; the Arabs have will . . . . Israel has high capabilities and low morale; the Arabs have low capabilities and high morale. Again and again, the record of history show, victory goes not to the side with the greater fire power, but to the side with greater determination."
Pipes did, at least, offer the hope that democracies, which tend to be non-confrontational and appeasement-oriented, do sometimes awaken from their slumber in the eleventh hour. Great Britain under Churchill constitutes the classic case in point.
Israel did, in fact, awaken after the Seder Night bombing in Netanya four years ago, and begin to once again take the battle to Palestinian suicide bombers, who had claimed over 130 Jewish lives in March of that year alone.
Today it is not just Israel, but the entire West that faces a test of will over Iranian nuclear weapons. For more than two years, the West has engaged in fruitless negotiations in order to convince Iran to cease its efforts to develop weapons-grade enriched uranium. Even after Iran declared those negotiations terminated and thumbed its nose at the International Atomic Energy Agency, neither the Western powers nor the United Nations have been able to agree on even the most minimal sanctions designed to convince the Iranian leadership to reverse course.
As columnist Mark Steyn notes ironically, those same Western progressives who were always sure that a nuclear war was only five minutes away when the nuclear powers numbered only five relatively rational countries have now made peace with the idea of a nuclear Iran. The Russians never threatened to use their nuclear weapons. Iran does, and the response is a fatalistic shrug or sophisticated arguments by the likes of Professor John Mearsheimer (of Walt-Mearsheimer fame) explaining why nuclear proliferation will be stabilizing.
In short, in the battle of wills, the Iranians, and the jihadist minions they seek to rally to their banner, have good reason to believe that the West will blink first – indeed that it has already blinked. Weakness has, after all, been the consistent message sent by the West since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian rulers, from Ayatollah Khomeini on, have viewed themselves not as heads of state but as leaders of a worldwide Islamic revolution. Just as the Soviet Union once sought to export the Bolshevik Revolution around the globe, the Iranian ayatollahs have sought to export their Islamic Revolution. That process began with the Moslem republics of the former Soviet Union, continued with the Hizbullah mini-state in Southern Lebanon, and goes on today in the form of Iranian sponsorship of a wide range of Islamist terror groups around the world. (Of late, the regime has been busy coordinating the plans of those terror groups in the event of an American attack on Iran’s nuclear program.)
The mullahs insistence on seeing themselves as the vanguard of an international Islamic revolution has of necessity turned Iran into the ultimate rogue state unwilling to abide by the rules of the international system based on sovereign nation states. The writ of the ayatollahs is - at least in their own minds - extraterritorial. And the West has done little to disabuse them of that notion.
The seizure of the American Embassy and the taking of hostages shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power in 1979 was an attack on the United States. Embassies have traditionally been recognized as extensions of the sovereignty of the country they represent. By failing to clear out the hostage takers, the Khomeini regime acquiesced in the attack on American sovereignty.
And President Carter’s failure to act forcefully in the face of Khomeini’s refusal to free the hostages effectively conveyed the message that the United States would tolerate such attacks. At the very least, one of the young hostage takers, Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, can be forgiven for deriving that lesson.
Khomeini’s fatwa calling upon Moslems everywhere to kill British novelist Salman Rushdie for blaspheming Mohammed was another assertion of his leadership of an international Islamic movement. Khomeini’s call for blood was heeded. Though Rushdie himself evaded assassination, translators and publishers of his work were attacked, and in one instance killed. Nearly forty people died when a hotel in which the Turkish translator was staying was torched.
Yet despite Khomeini’s demand for the blood of citizens of foreign countries and his call upon Moslems abroad to ignore the laws of their host countries, Iran faced no sanctions and was never treated as a rogue state. For the Europeans it remained business as usual.
The Rushdie affair highlights another lesson that the West ignores at its peril: the Iranian ayatollahs have proven true to their word. Today the threat of President Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map is dismissed by many as mere braggadocio of a madman. The same was once said of the author of Mein Kampf, who executed the demonic plan that he had elaborated in great detail as soon as he had the power to do so. Nor was it the mad Ahmadinejad, but his "moderate" predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who spelled out the logic of a nuclear strike on Israel: "a single bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world."
In any event, the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran lies only partly in the possibility that it will drop those bombs, and a nuclear Iran threatens not only Israel but the entire non-Moslem world. Just the possession of nukes would elevate Iranian prestige in the eyes of would-be jihadists all over the world.
Worse still, it would enhance the regime’s capacity for mischief-making via its terrorist proxies around the world. The mullahs’ taste for such mischief-making is already well-established. The 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which more than 100 were killed and 250 injured, bore Iranian fingerprints. An Argentinian court issued arrest warrants for two Iranian diplomats plus two government ministers. That bombing itself followed that of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires the previous year, in which 29 were killed.
Yet once again Iran paid no price. And if that was the Western response when Iran had only the oil weapon but no nuclear weapons, how much more immune would it be to retaliation if its proxies operated under a nuclear umbrella. (How likely would the United States have been to invade Iraq if Saddam Hussein had already possessed nuclear weapons?) As long as the Iranian government preserved the slightest scintilla of deniability – always easy to do when one has dozens of terrorist organizations on the payroll – it could unleash those minions around the world without fear of consequences.
Daniel Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, last month published a frightening article in The New Republic entitled "The Radical Politics of Islamic Fundamentalism." He described political Islam as embodying numerous charming traits: "totalitarian, aggressive, conquering, cocksure about its superiority and destiny to rule, intolerant, bristling with resentment, and only tenuously in touch with aspects of reality." In particular, he singled out two distinctive traits of political Islam – the religious consecration of its tenets and its cult of death.
Iranian leaders have consistently exemplified that death cult in their glorification of death to secure the spread of political Islam, their willingness to slaughter entire categories of enemies and pursuit of the weapons to do so, and their trumpeting of lurid fantasies of killing opponents.
Nothing would so empower political Islam as the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the leader of jihadism around the globe. And if that happens, the West will have no one to blame but itself for its failure to confront the enemy.